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Monthly Archives: January 2012

“Tranny” And Other Buttons

Once again I’m going to buck the trend of transgender populist thinking and make a counterintuitive declaration. I refuse to take offense at the word “tranny”. Oh, there she goes again trying to be all controversial and avant-garde with an inflammatory statement. Just what we need, another snarky shock blogger. Ooo, she probably thinks she’s so cool. Maybe. Sometimes at least. In this case I am hoping to make a larger point. If you got this far, stay with me and I’ll keep it short.

The language of every culture, probably that has ever been, contains within a rich array of sounds, when put in the right context, have the power to make someone feel bad about themselves. We as humans are really good at that. After all, we are pack animals, and aside from the primal tools of “corrective” violence, we naturally developed other means to dissuade others from straying outside the lines of whatever arbitrary and ridiculous set of norms were established by the last strong man leader to set policy rather than enforce it. For those unwilling to beat someone into submission, and not particularly verbose, name calling is a great way to express in one word that they feel, from a ‘regular person’ standpoint, that the other is something less than that. Often times, very much less.

The prime example of this is of course ‘The N Word’. Honestly, I’m not even comfortable seeing it in print, much less writing it, even for the sake of example, such is its power. Uttering it aloud, especially in the context for which it first came into being is like shouting out the secret name of god backwards in attempts to undo all of creation. Volatile and unpredictable, it can be a weapon of mass destruction when flipped into the crowd by a 90’s character actor, or sell a million comedy albums. This dubious gift to America is like giving Newt Gingrich a Green Lantern ring. Maybe there could be some good that comes out of it, but holy shit, chances are it’s going to be really, really bad. What really happened is that intolerant assholes were upgraded from a bow and arrow to a nuclear weapon. I can’t see how that is good for anyone.

The equivalent word in transgendered culture seems to be quickly becoming ‘tranny’. Like the N Word, ‘tranny’ is rarely ever thrown out there give anyone the warm fuzzies. Like all other name calling, the real reason for using it is to hurt someone’s feelings and make them feel less than. That is why I’m drawing the line. I can’t tell anyone else what is going to hurt their feelings or isn’t, but for me, I’ll be damned if I’m going to put such a convenient shiny, red, candy like button on my forehead for someone to push just because my existence offends their delicate sensibilities. If you want to hurt my feelings, by god, you are going to have to work for it.

I  know there are some like me who are trying to take it back; make it our word and all. I’d rather just see it stripped of meaning and impact. I won’t respond to it, nor will I use it against my sisters, and aside from this obvious exception, I  have no plans to even talk about it again. If we leave it alone and refuse to let it bother us, it may die a gradual death, lonely and misunderstood ,and come to rest beside other toothless old anachronisms like ‘wisenheimer’, whatever the hell that used to mean anyway.

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Mirror Mirror

I was 12 that spring when I planned to put it all together given the opportunity and enough time. It wasn’t long before I got my chance. We were off for Easter vacation when there still was such a thing, and my mother and sister decided to get out of the house on a Gold Circle excursion. A predecessor of the Target and Wal-Mart empires, it was large  and varied enough to keep them occupied for the better part of the afternoon. I could not have been more excited.

Moments after I heard the car pull out of the driveway, I was upstairs in a flash. I had time, sure, but I was anxious for it to get started. Underwear, hose, a dress with a brown flowered skirt and white short-sleeve bodice, and tan flats. I combed my mop of hair down and adorned it with plastic barrettes. My sister had just discovered make-up, so lipstick, eye shadow, and a hint of blush went on as well. It all just felt right. It was time for a look.

From a very early age I realized I was different. I wasn’t exactly sure in what way, only that envied my sister’s dance classes and that fact that her clothes seemed to be a lot more ‘me’ than the crap I was usually consigned to. From the time I was five I was fishing old pantyhose out of my mother’s bedroom garbage where they languished beneath heaps of old cigarette butts emptied from the ash tray. This was the early 70’s and no one had put together yet the link between burning items consumed under flammable sheets and house fires, so try and read this in context.

I understood from long before through a number of embarrassing incidents that I was considered to be a boy, and therefore doing anything that smacked of girliness was deemed to be undesirable. It didn’t stop me of course, just made me careful. I took my opportunities where they lay, borrowing items from my mother and sister that I thought they would not notice, rescued items from the Am-Vets bag, and deftly maneuvered games of ‘truth or dare’ in my favor where I would be “forced” to don a dress or one of Laura’s dance recital outfits as my dare. This was all fun, but not enough.

My most frequent daydream was a ‘Home Alone’ scenario where my parents and sister would go out of town for a week or more and feel comfortable leaving me behind. As soon as they were safely out of town, I’d dress up as a girl and live the week like that. Our neighbors of course would never recognize me, such would be the powers of transformation, and assume I was just some girl the family hired to watch the house while everyone was gone. I’d take walks, shop, and no one would ever be the wiser, plus the exercise would get it out of my system. (I retained such delusion for more decades than I care to admit) It all seemed entirely within the realm of possibility except for the fact that my parents detested travel and would not have left a pre-teen home alone under any circumstances.

With mom and sister safely at the store I was finally realizing my dream of dressing up all the way. With a skip in my step, literally, I bounced down the stairs to check myself out in the mirror that hung behind the front closet door. I opened it up and stepped back to get a good look. Holy shit! Staring back at me was a real live no fooling girl. It had been one thing to look down at my legs in a pair of tights and assume the illusion they belonged to the opposite gender, but this was a whole new game. It was me looking back, really me!

Then it hit me, hard and for the first time. “It’s really me”, became, “Uh oh, I think that really is me. Oh shit, I think I’m supposed to be a girl!” My heart started pounding and I started shaking all over. It’s true I had never been super psyched to see the goofy looking kid with the bowl cut staring back at me in the mirror, but this, this I liked. A lot. I continued to shake and just couldn’t rip my eyes away. OK, but what I’m I supposed to do with this anyway? I didn’t have a whole lot of time to think about it because a moment later I heard a car door slam and the very distinctive cacophony of my mother and sister arguing.

That I managed to avoid wetting my panties was a feat unto itself, but that I somehow managed to fly up the stairs, hang the dress back up in the closet, return the hose and shoes, and dive into the bathroom with my clothes before they came through the front door should be recognized as a bona fine miracle by the Catholic church. Shaking like a leaf I scrubbed the makeup off my face using toilet paper so that the evidence could be flushed. I crept back to my room to read a bit and calm down before going down to face anyone. I was so afraid it would be written across my face.

Naturally I vowed to never ever again do anything that might remotely be considered girly. I cleansed my room of any pieces of clothing I had squirreled away and ran with great mighty strides toward anything masculine that was within my capability. This is the real reason I joined the basketball team and school and became heavily involved with the Boy Scouts. Enough testosterone pumping activities I figured and I’d accept my role as a manly He-man. I mean what else was I going to do?

This was the grand start to a twenty-eight year habit of tip toeing right up to the precipice a further realization before doing a complete about face and running full speed in the other direction. So many purges, near discoveries, risks taken, and finding ways of digging myself in ever deeper into an identity I would never really feel comfortable with. When I did remember what I saw in the mirror, a rarity, it seemed like it should be someone else. The truth was too much to bear.

Review: She’s Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan

I went to Barnes and Noble on a cold late morning to look for something else all together. I was finally at the cusp of understanding myself and had ceased my avoidance of the topic. My preliminary research told me that True Selves was the best introduction to things transgender. I don’t know why I assumed they would have it. They did not. I did myself a favor by typing ‘transgender’ into the clunky store search engine that is heavily biased toward Nook offerings. The only thing in stock was a biography of someone I had never heard of. I picked it up anyway and cashed out.

I read the back cover again in the car and leafed through it, noting some basic similarities to my own life. I rationalized. Either this was going to hit home and I’d be driven closer to what I suspected but not quite ready to admit, or I would not be able to identify with her story and would broaden my investigation into my identity issues. In retrospect I can’t believe how dense I insisted on being, but it is important to the context in which I read She’s Not There; A Life in Two Genders, by Jennifer Finney Boylan.

I’ll speak to my bias first and get that out of the way. While no two lives are exactly parallel, the author’s experiences pre-transition and my own had enough similarity that I was able to immediately identify with her. Her easy, flowing writing style spoke directly to my preference that could have easily made this a one day read even if the experience wasn’t pegged to a voyage of self discovery. I’m sure exceptions exist, but it is difficult to imagine any American MtF transgender woman not responding favorably to this book and feeling a kinship to the author as a result.

What I enjoyed the most in the pre-transition portion, roughly the first half minus the first chapter, was the authors ability to convey her struggle in wrestling with a pre-aware transgender identity. This may also be bias, but her familiar attempts at self-correction were poignant but painful to read as she displayed a great deal of candor in describing the awkwardness, false hope, and self deception I was so familiar with. Many transgendered people, and myself included, face overwhelming temptation to take a revisionist approach to our pasts. In the comfort of the present, it seems nearly ludicrous to not have known ourselves and destination. The author pushed past that and managed to capture those moments true to form, as near as the reader can tell in any case.

Transition and after, the second half of the book, read just as smoothly. In the context I was reading, it was almost a guide of what to expect when you are expecting to transition. Hungry for information, it became less of a story than a manual for newly self discovering transsexuals. Reading it this way does her story a great disservice. I read it the first time in a mad grasp for fast knowledge, a second time to take notes for my therapist, but came back a third (unprecedented for me since The Hobbit back in fourth grade). On the third read I was able to come back to the overall story and read as it was intended. In this respect it was as moving and impressive as the first.

From a strictly transgender perspective, this work is wonderful in both providing a wealth of information in a very personal narrative. Because of that, it also brings a great sense of comfort. Jenny struggled, found herself married and a parent, and yet managed to transition and the world did not come to an end. I did find some of the physical aspects of transition to be slightly glossed over, but the capture of the emotional and social components well made up for it. It was gratifying to have her concentrate on the truly hard parts.

One of the reasons I picked this for my first review, other than sentiment for the first transgender work I read, was that I have no criticism to add. I do, however, have a small word of warning. The author, Jenny, is very passable. A trans reader should bear this in mind and consider some of her experiences may be atypical for those of us who were cursed with more stereotypical male features. This is not the authors fault as she tells her story as an autobiography and can only speak to her own experience.

I’m not going to bother with a scale based rating system in my reviews, but I will conclude by reaffirming that this book was excellent. In addition to speaking to my own condition of existence, I have found that it makes a superb introduction to transgender for cisgender people. I have loaned my copy out enough times that I bought a second. The feedback I received from my cisgender friends and family was overwhelmingly positive as both an enjoyable read and as real world validation of the experiences I have been trying to relate. I understand a 10th anniversary edition is coming out shortly with new material and I will be picking it up.

Common Language

Deuteronomy 22:5, King James Version states: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.”

That sounds pretty serious! What exactly is an abomination? Aside from that creep who fights the Hulk in the second movie, to whom I’m reasonably sure the good folks who brought us KJV were not referencing.

Webster’s Dictionary defines an ‘abomination’ as “something abominable”. That isn’t such a help. It then defines ‘abominable’ as “worthy of or causing disgust or hatred”. Ouch. I hate to add to my woes, but the example Webster’s Dictionary gives for ‘sophomoric’ is, “Any point made by utilizing ‘Webster’s Dictionary defines…” in the introduction. Bear with me your honor, I’m going somewhere with this.

No no, I’m not using your precious time to reiterate the already well argued case that even were we in the transgendered community to assume that true, it would not apply to us anyway since we do adopt the right clothing for our gender. Instead I’m going to zag left here and speak to the underlying problem. There is a fundamental difference in root languages and bases of logic that is making it a real pickle to find common ground to even have a meaningful discussion. Because of this, the struggle for those little things, like basic rights, is fought on the battlefield of public political opinion and the comments section of  CNN.com. Can we hope for more? Honestly, I don’t know, but let’s get at least a picture of things.

I used to spend a great deal of time arguing the greater and lesser points of issues by attempting to drill down to some final authority. There are too many final authorities I’ve come to find. Imagine several lawyers attempting to make a case, each articulating a fundamental truth of the Korean, Japanese, and Malaysian constitutions respectively. (My original example had the US and Iranian constitution, but I quickly realized that both sides automatically assumed themselves to be the US and thereby the moral high ground). “It’s all well and good you cited Document X  Section Y Passage Z, but I simply don’t recognize that.”  This is inevitably followed by a lot of snarky name calling, belittlement, and esoteric threats.

So where do we find common ground to communicate? If a proportion of the population believes in a faith based core truth that maintains transition or other transgendered actions are aberrant behaviors that clearly contradict a decisively communicated divine will, how do we answer that? Medical and other scientific evidence is routinely discounted as inherently erroneous. The methodology must be inherently flawed if it doesn’t align with scripture. Incredibly, the pissy approach of disproving the holy word by labeling it the ignorant ramblings of bronze age nomads and their mercurial sky god doesn’t seem to be making much of a dent either. I know, right? Hard to believe someone wouldn’t immediately drop decades of emotional investment in a paradigm when you put it that way.

Here we are. On one hand there are those of us who are transgendered, part of the larger LGBTQ community, and allies who recognize we were born this way and there isn’t much to be done about it. On the other, there are those who are certain that is not the case because various forms of scripture say it isn’t so, and that trumps all. While there are exceptions on either side such as alleged ‘ex-gays’ who purport to have prayed it away, or believers turned skeptic for one reason or another, on the whole no amount of crafty logic, clever jabs, or recitation of quotes seems to be swaying any appreciable number of folks. Nothing so frustrating as an impasse in rhetoric. From the trans point of view, it’s not enough to agree to disagree; we have rights and liberties at stake.

If we can’t beat them and don’t want to join them, the best bet is to get to know them. Hold on now before you demonize the idea as ‘consorting with the enemy’.  When Ellen DeGeneres came out and “Will and Grace” was on the air, there was almost a deafening din of cries, “I don’t want homosexuality in my face!” It’s true, some are still sticking to their guns with that and we have to accept some people are never going to change. The important thing though, is that enough did. Now having gay media personalities is hardly even a thing, and the vast majority of characters are viewed as likable. It may be a chicken and egg argument regarding the very positive trends such as SONDA, gay marriage, and DADT repeal following relatively soon after. The point is that once something viewed as strange and suspicious is linked to real people, or at least likable characters, it becomes much harder to outright reject. “Much harder to hate you to your face”, as the old marketing saying goes.

I’ll go into the current panicky political backlash in another post, but my main point is that the road to becoming normalized parts of a society, especially one that contains diametrically opposed belief systems, is visibility. The more we put ourselves out there, especially in a positive manner, no matter how much head-in-the-sand resistance is encountered, so many more will come to see us as people. The  level below base belief faith and base belief science is Base Human, our one fundamentally common language.

Mean In Spirit

I recently became aware of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival and my first impression was, “Wow, what a wonderful thing!”. Of course this was scant inch on the screen before I made my way down to the whole big “womyn-born-womyn” controversy. I’d like to pretend otherwise, but the whole thing kind of hurt my feelings. I should know better, but it did anyway and I thought I would explore why.

For those unfamiliar, the MWMF began back in 1976 in the spirit of “for us, by us, only us”. It’s not a new concept; men have been doing this since time immemorial as a way to have a great many male only spaces where they could act “themselves” (i.e. in a manner in which women would tacitly disapprove). This is perfectly understandable. Women do deserve the same kind of space where they can let loose and have a good time without worrying about being leered at, sexualized, or even just get plain shitfaced without having to worry about becoming victims of violence and rape. This of course should be all spaces, but the world just isn’t so accommodating. Things veered to the right when it was decided from the get go that “womyn” means having an ‘F’ on your birth certificate right on the delivery date. No exceptions.

I’m not going to go into the history of it all here as Wikipedia does a fine job of that. Needless to say, the policy has been a sore point for the MTF community since inception. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a music fest.” Yeah… not exactly. It’s like a men’s society with a ‘White’s Only’ sign on the door. It’s very hard to read that and not take it that not being the later excludes one from being the former. Intended or not, it is the real message that is coming through.

Before rebutting, I’ll take a moment to outline the stated reasoning behind the exclusionary policy. As the story goes, trans women were not subjected to same patriarchal devaluation and instead enjoyed many years of male privilege until we decided to transition. In addition, trans female presence might make some of the cisgender women uncomfortable. I’m sure this can be expounded upon by delving into some of the more rigid feminist theory; “appropriating the female body” and all that. The take away remains clear. We don’t count as women.

These arguments have been chipped away at already – there is no ‘universal’ cisgender girlhood experience; dubious male privilege is significantly reduced by having male expectation imposed (something many or most of us found impossible to satisfy), etc – so I won’t pontificate on these at length. We also might argue that there are all sorts of personality types who make others around them uncomfortable. I’m very certain the number of cisgender women attending who creep out other women for one reason or another far exceeds even the best projections of trans women would might like to attend. I’ll leave the rapist disguised as a trans woman in the same box we find the stalker calling from inside the house and the escaped convict with a hook haunting lovers lane. Please.

When you take all that away, it looks like another dreary case of people excluding others simply because they can. When one considers the rough numbers – cisgender female population of about 150,000,000 vs. transgender female population of 12,500 – , it’s like having an event where the entire undergraduate population of Cornell is invited, except explicitly for Suzie Jones. Imagine that! “Come one, come all, to this fabulous Cornell event! All except you Suzie, with your advantageous birth condition and funny looks. (It’s OK, she doesn’t have feelings like us real students.)” Put that way, it sounds pretty mean in spirit doesn’t it?

Behind the Lines Expose Pt 1 – Ball Busting

This is the first part of an ongoing series detailing my observations from behind the lines of male culture. In spite of my tenure “in the culture” but not “of the culture”, these observations are intended to reflect no bias whatsoever in regards to favor for or prejudice against this phallocentric demographic. Far be it from me to step on the wee feelings of, or incur the wrath of these fine representative gentlemen, filthy animals that they are.

Some things just cause the senses to prick up when a condition in the environment just gives a vibe of being not quite right. Toddlers dressed like Seventh Avenue hookers. The calculator at the dollar store with two eights on the keypad. A mouse happily swimming across the top of the lobby tank at Red Lobster. Just tiny fingers raised at the universe that make you say, “Yeah. That shouldn’t be.” I got that same feeling at a meeting filled exclusively with individuals who purported to be women. It was a trans female gathering awash with support and gentle humor, and then a round a genuine ball busting broke out and I was instantly reminded of that brave little rodent, clinging to life, destined to become the surprise filling in my expensive crustacean dinner. Just not right.

One of the problems that faces a trans individual is that we are placed very early on in socialization groups as determined by our genitalia and not our personalities. That in itself is just going to be the way of it until science advances so far as to be able to tell from birth. “Congratulations Mrs Delveccio, it’s a healthy baby girl! She does, however, have quite the little penis on her. Relax. We can fix that. We have the technology.” It’s a beautiful dream for sure, but maybe in a few generations. In the mean time we have some societal mores to overcome.

Something I noticed when stuck in boy culture is that males engage in constant tests of masculinity. The  most common test is known as ‘ball busting’ and it serves a purpose for both the buster and the busted, who will repeatedly exchange places in lieu of a reach around. The man playing the buster role will make his best attempt to find the most crude, insulting, demoralizing, and downright nasty thing to say for the sole purpose of trying to make the other guy cry. The busted is expected to absorb without so much as a change of expression anything and everything hurled his way while everyone laughs. Expressing even the tiniest crack of caring is bad and an invitation to pile on.

The best topics for ball busting should be aimed at the other mans’ sense of his own masculinity. A good way to get at that is to find a clever spin to indicate that he is homosexual, or worse yet, female. These can be based on behavior – real or imagined -, apparel, or a self deprecating story he shared when drunk he now deeply regrets telling you. It might surprise you to find out that the man’s actual penis will never be called out in this ritual. Men as a rule do not share details about their genitalia with other men unless it is some clearly understood exaggeration of size. Sharing makes them intensely uncomfortable, so they just don’t do it.

Secondary topics for ball busting include former sexual partners the man has already denounced, his mom, his car, his job, or visible bodily attributes like hairline or Dumbo ears. Bad topics include intelligence, social consciousness, and soft skills. These are not things a man links to his masculinity, so the chances of making him care are far diminished. Surprisingly, there are forbidden topics such as his current squeeze and his children. If the man being busted is supposed to respond to the insult with overprotective violence, it is just going to be a bad time for everyone.

Ball busting in and of itself is not a bad thing in the appropriate setting; it is just something men do to feel comfortable with each other. Variations do occur based on age, class and other demographics. Form and content might be a little different between say a group of construction workers and bank executives on the golf course, but the intention is the same – try to make someone feel really bad and approve when he doesn’t.

This behavior does occur in mixed gender environments as well, though it is usually toned down considerably. The buster doesn’t want to seem too mean in front of women, and everyone wants to save the busted the shame of having a woman jump in to his defense. That is emasculating for all. Consider the display to be akin to when people try their best to disable the padded suit guy at a rape prevention class. It’s fun and funny to watch because you know he’s not really being injured. Men have about the same level of sensation regarding their feelings and makes this OK, or even fun.

Being raised in a ball busting culture, trans women can easily get into trouble. It is a wonderful thing to be invited to a female only gathering and being accepted as a woman. At the same time it can be nerve wracking as well. Think of eating in an army mess hall for many years and suddenly being invited to dine with the Rockefellers. You have no idea what to wear or what the 19 different eating utensils are for. Often times when people get anxious they revert to paradigms they are familiar with, even if it’s “not really them”. This can come out in the form of cracking wise at any or all of the ladies present. This is not good. The women present will assume they have a real jerk in their presence, or worse, a man, and want to exclude. If eating with the Rockefellers, it is much better to ask what you eat with  the dental tool looking thing or not using it all rather eating with fingers like a baboon. Same goes here. If unsure how to act, a person should find  a way to ask someone quietly what is appropriate, or at the very least just shut the fuck up. Never, ever rag on Donnas’ ridiculous shoes at least until she goes to the ladies room.

The take away from this is that ball busting is something men do and we don’t. It is socially acceptable amongst their own kind for some reason, they seem to like it, and that makes it ok. If having testicles is something antithetical to your self-conception, you should not be doing this, and especially to others who are also highly unlikely to hang big rubber scrotal sacs from the back of their truck. It’s bad enough when men cross the line and pull this shit on us, so have the decency to wait until she’s out of ear shot to be a royal bitch.

Gallows

It takes a great deal of preparation to kick off an orderly massacre. The victorious Catholic hordes took days driving stakes into the ground, coiling rope and dragging in tons of greenwood before finally accepting the Cathar’s surrender and subsequent burning. In an untold number of medieval and modern villages gallows would be erected in anticipation of the dawn of execution day. More recently, the Nazis took everything up another order of magnitude and devised a malevolently complex bureaucracy to navigate for both the perpetrators as well as the victims. In case no one ever thought to say it before, what pricks! My sense of drama is building this up way too much, but these things came to mind when I came into work yesterday.

The message came in mid October from Corporate in standard memo form. These memo’s are either intended to be inspirational by highlighting all the extra cents per share we earned for distant shadowy shareholders, or a terror inducing hint at coming layoffs. They never say it quite that way. It’s always a roundabout lackadaisical rumination about the near term outlook, past projections, then bam, by the way, it looks like we hired way too many of you when the future looked so bright we had to wear shades. The wordsmithing is so masterful that although it is never hinted at, they do understand that it is probably your fault.

The siege mentality sets in . Do you think you are on the list? What about me, do you think I am on the list? How about him, he has to be on the list. If he’s not and I am, oh, I’ll be so pissed. The culture of speculation trumps even the most energetic efforts to maybe turn things around. Why the hell should I care? I’m probably on the list. It’s not good times.

This time I had some real cause to wonder if I was on the list finally. Oh, I have a good rep and all and bring in money, but something fundamentally changed from the last two layoffs. This time followed my coming out as transgendered to HR. We had some very good and productive transition meetings, but all that ceased once preparation for the slaughter began. I knew they were busy, but still, it didn’t give me a good feeling. Here I was, and employee who identified special needs, would require additional workforce training, and in the minds of HR, could potentially open the company to risk of lawsuit. Or they could quietly make the problem go away. When a third of the workforce is being let go, pretty much any flimsy excuse will do .

I ascended the stairs yesterday morning, passing the hundreds of gallows boxes stacked neatly in the stairwell awaiting all those personal effects and cutlery that should have been returned to the cafeteria. I tried to speculate something witty and clever, but instead just wondered if one of them had my name on it. Ugh, how mundane; stress reduced me to cliché. By noon the culling ended and I remained standing. Now, amidst and bruised and resentful remaining population, I must go forward and announce my transition. Shit.

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